Made In China: Chinese Artistic Representations Of Capitalist Consumption Essay Sample
Chinese art that represents capitalist consumption brings to mind two concepts: appropriation and authenticity. Appropriation and art has had a long history. The Romans copied the Greeks, and the Greeks copied the Egyptians. So too, in our modern globalized world we copy each other and in the process we ask “Who Am I?” and thus authenticity and art become intertwined. In this exhibition themes of appropriation and authenticity play themselves out in the works of Chinese artists Ai Wei Wei, Tamen, and Liu Bolin. Ai Wei Wei challenges us to reconsider what is authentic and what is consumerism. Liu Bolin’s works represents consumerism in the style of the vacation postcard — except in his photographs, the figure is camouflaged, evocative of the notion of China incorporated into a culture, but not identified. Ta Men’s paintings evoke the original anecdote of authenticity and food in the North American imagination.
In fact, the title of this exhibition comes from a photograph by the Taiwanese photographer Liu Bolin — “Made in China.” Bolin captures the banality of consumerism with an image of a display of plastic toys filling a store shelf. The colors are sickening and bright. Looking closely at the image, it becomes apparent to the viewer that the products have subsumed a human figure. The consumer stands hidden by the consumer products that is outlined by the dolls, both implicated and excluded. Consumer culture represented by Chinese artists plays on this theme of being invisible and of being implicated in the globalization of consumer products.
In Bolin’s work, the image of the human being is outlined by the toys himself, both a consumer and one consumed by consumerism. Perhaps the image of the consumer is the same as coined by Charles Baudelaire who wrote that the man of the world “wants to know, understand, assess everything that happens on the surface of our spheroid” (130).
However, in aiming to understand, to assess, quickly becomes in modern life a perverse need to consume. Consumerism is irreverent because even artifacts from history are not safe from its branding techniques. Nothing is sacred. In an age where consumerism has become global, artists often speak of the effects of consumer culture around the world. Western sensibilities, which desires art with “Chinese characteristics” becomes conflated and stripped to its essential parts (Pohl 96).
“Made in China” now means the world’s products are mass produced, proliferated, disseminated, and encouraged around “the surface of our spheroid.” The “allure of consumerism” has completely undercut national pride and any sense of authenticity (Minglu 25). If Coca-Cola could stamp their logo on ancient Chinese artifacts — they would. With the rise of mass consumerism emerges the class of people that we can only call the consumers.
We live in a world where consumers buy products that they often do not know the origins of their production, nor do they understand -- or care to understand -- the modes of production that go into its mass supply and demand. Authenticity has collapsed into blind appropriation -- we sit at the cafeteria feast of infinite supply, not sure how we got there or where we are going. The “slow process of appropriation” is both a transformation of capitalism China’s, and a refiguring of our relationship to consumerism (Said 219).
Ai Wei Wei, “Han Dynasty Urn with Coca-Cola Logo”
Liu Bolin, Made in China
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